Checking the Rearview Mirror
by Melinda Merrell, Senior Program Director
As 2016 quickly winds down and we look towards new beginnings in 2017, I am taking time to reflect on what this year has brought to bear. This year, our office has had the privilege of starting a few new and exciting projects that leave me, on this last week of the year, reflecting on what the true meaning of community is. We all use this word often to describe our work… in fact, SCORH’s branding statement is “dedicated to improving access to quality healthcare in rural communities”.
But though we can look at a map and point out to our partners and friends where these “communities” are, we don’t always stop to think about what makes up these communities. Beyond the health care providers we often work with in these areas, who are the people that live, work, play, and pray in these places? The health care system has been laser focused the past few years on understanding and promoting improvements in “population health” which often creates conversations around economics and education. While this is certainly a step in the right direction towards helping people be healthier in the long term, I can’t help but think the meaning of “community” goes much deeper, especially in rural areas, and therefore is a necessary component to think about with these efforts.
I met with someone a few weeks ago who described community as a value that someone places on the people, places, and things around them, which I interpreted to mean that we each define our own community depending on our personal needs and desires. This really struck me as true because it really gets at that core of what is different about rural communities. And while preserving what is good and unique about our own individual communities is important, it is even more critical to combine our efforts across communities to fight the problems that are not so unique … from poor health outcomes and a lack of access to needed services to a lack of jobs for people to earn a living wage.
So as you consider your New Year’s Resolutions, I urge you to think about your community. Where is it? What is it? Who is it? Are there values you have that are not represented in your community? If so, how can you change that?
Further, think about what you want your community to be a year from now. How can you step up to help drive progress? How can you connect with other leaders in communities like yours to further elevate your mutual needs and potential solutions?
For my part, the community I serve is all of rural South Carolina. Although Liberty looks different from Indiantown and Zion is distinct from Govan, each one of these communities is similar in that they are filled with people who are doing their best to take care of each other as family and friends. My desire for 2017 is to see rural South Carolinians leverage their care for one another into action towards creating healthier communities all across the state. Working together, I believe we can, as one rural South Carolina community, show the rest of the state and the nation how powerful community can actually be.